Directly translated, ‘bitterballen’ means ‘bitter balls’. There are so many jokes I could make here, but I’ll refrain as it’s not in my nature to take the low-hanging fruit (oh dear, and I tried so hard). Does this description sound appetising? Well, I’ll let you decide.

Contrary to what the name might suggest, Bitterballen aren’t bitter at all. According to my Dutch South African friend Will, the name originally comes from the fact that they might be eaten as an accompaniment to the (sometimes-bitter) Dutch spirit, Jenever.¹ They are, in fact, breaded and deep fried little balls of warm, crispy yummyness and are extremely moreish indeed.

The filling consists of cheese, bechamel sauce and a meat ragu of some sort (although I’m sure they are slightly potato-ey too), all contained within a crisp, breaded outer coating. The recipes I’ve looked up online mention that you can use leftover meat to form the ragu, or even soup meat / stock meat and the more posh the bitterbal, the more meat it will contain (or so I’m told).  I am planning to try and make them myself soon, although I’m a little worried about learning to make them at home as I can’t imagine they’re very healthy.

While on my trip to Holland last month, I took every opportunity I had to eat them. Much like their big brother, kroketten (croquettes), they are ubiquitous in Dutch bars and restaurants. They are traditionally served with a bowl of mustard, and make a great sharing snack. They are especially suited to being consumed with beer, in fact nothing I’ve ever eaten short of biltong can even come close to how well they complement my favourite beverage.

The picture above was taken of a bowl of bitterballen I shared with Will upon one of the pleins (squares) in the Hague, in the late afternoon. I washed mine down with a Palm Royale, while Will had a Steenbrugge Blond. Rock, paper, scissors had to decide the fate of the last bitterbal! (I’m only kidding. Will, the top bloke that he is, insisted I have it)

1. (Jenever (yuh-NAY-ver) is a type of gin, ie a spirit distilled from a mash of a mixture of grains and then infused with a selection of spices, much like gin, although it can also be wooded, like whiskey, but I digress)


Filed under Food, Travel

7 responses to “Bitterballen

  1. Theldry

    Heya Gaz,

    These look like a snack of pure genius! I’m definitely giving them a try. I love the idea of a mustard dip too. (Not to mention the accompanying beer!)

    I noticed that the Wiki entry for Bitterballen claims that they’re a favourite of Aberdeen FC fans, being redubbed ‘Stovie Balls.’ I’ve eaten Stovies a number of times and the theory makes sense as they too are potato-ey. But I can’t really see much internet evidence to back this up. Not even The Dons’ own web forums pay much more than lip service to it. A shame really, I love a bit of culinary romance.

    • Scotish stovie balls! Excellent! How are they up North? Do they also serve them with mustard?

    • Theldry

      I’ve got to hold my hands up, I’ve never actually been to Aberdeen! Mine will be served with mustard though, of course. Hey, get some photos up here when you make your own. I’d be really interested to see them.

  2. Ash

    Nice article dude! Will definitely try them with your recommended beer choice!

  3. Austin

    Those look like the bollocks dude, quite literally:) You may have to whip some up next time I’m around..

  4. Oh Gary, I simply can’t resist a challenge and will make these in the next few days!

  5. That’s good to know, Cindy! I do hope you’ll blog about your attempts.
    Be sure to serve them with a nice, preferably Belgian or Dutch beer and mild mustard for maximum authenticity.

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